‘The Book of Enoch for Beginners’ by Phillip Long – A Brief Review

Many readers of the New Testament might think that in the background knowledge of its various authors – the Evangelists, Paul, and so on – was the Jewish scriptures, typically in the form of some iteration of the Septuagint (LXX). Those readers aren’t wrong. A cursory reading of the New Testament documents betrays an intimacy with the legends of Genesis, the prophetic pulpit of Isaiah and his colleagues, and the songs of the Psalter. Take, for example, the oft-neglected epistle from Jude. In v. 5 of that single chapter letter the author reminds his audience “that the Lord, who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (NRSV).[1] This is a reference, of course, to the exodus as well as to the various scenes in Numbers wherein multitudes of Israelites die off in the wilderness on account of their unbelief (e.g., Numbers 14). Similarly, in v. 11 the author mentions “the way of Cain,” “Balaam’s error,” and “Korah’s rebellion.” All three of these find their roots in the Torah.[2]

Outside the “Canon”

But while readers of the New Testament are doubtless correct that its authors had the Hebrew Bible in their minds as they wrote, those texts were not their only sources of material. For many of them, other texts – noncanonical for most – swam around in their minds. The epistle of Jude is again instructive. In v. 9 we read an anecdote about the archangel Michael and the devil fighting over the body of Moses. From which book of the Hebrew Bible do we read this story? In vain would you pore over Genesis or Judges or Jeremiah in search of its source. Instead, scholars agree that this brief tale comes from a now lost ending to the Testament (or Assumptionof Moses.[3] It should go without saying that this is not a canonical text.

Similarly, in v. 6 the author writes of “the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling” whom God “has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day.” The first part of the verse is an allusion to Genesis 6 wherein heavenly beings referred to in the Hebrew text as bǝnê hāʾĕlōhîm – “sons of God” or “sons of the gods – take wives from human women. Are these angels? Annette Yoshiko Reed notes that while in Old Greek translations from around the third century BCE bǝnê hāʾĕlōhîm is rendered hoi huioi tou theou (“the sons of God”), “[s]ome manuscripts…attest an alternate rendering of angeloi theou [“angels of God”] at LXX Gen 6:2, for which we also find external attestations beginning in the first century CE.”[4] Thus, regardless of what the original author of Genesis 6 intended by the phrase bǝnê hāʾĕlōhîm, it was often taken to mean angelic beings. That seems to be what Jude is doing in his letter. But if the first part of v. 6 is an allusion to that scene in Genesis, from where does the second half of the verse find its source?

Before answering that question, let’s consider what we find just a few verses later in vss. 14-15

It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied saying, “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

As the character Enoch shows up only a handful of times in the Hebrew Bible, it should be simple to track down the source of this prophecy. Yet, as was the case with the anecdote about Moses’s body from v. 9 and the reference to angels being “kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day” in v. 6, such a quotation cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. So, where does it come from? And from what source do we read of the fate of the lustful angels? 

 The answer to both of those questions is 1 Enoch. Jude 14-15, for example, comes directly from 1 Enoch 1:9: “Behold, he will arrive with ten million of the holy ones in order to execute judgment upon all. He will destroy the wicked ones and censure all flesh on account of everything that they have done, that which the sinners and the wicked ones committed against him.”[5] This translation of the passage is taken from an Ethiopic edition of 1 Enoch; Jude, no doubt, was using a Greek version.[6] But the fact that Jude knew and used 1 Enoch is beyond dispute.[7] So, while he may have been acquainted with the pseudepigraphic text, the same cannot be said for most modern readers. For those interested in knowing more, where can they turn? 

Orientation to 1 Enoch

One obvious place to begin is to read 1 Enoch for oneself. There are a number of translations on the market, though your safest best is to either buy the edited set from James Charlesworth entitled The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha or Hermeneia’s 1 Enoch: The Hermeneia Translation which was translated by George Nickelsburg and James VanderKam.[8] But if you’re anything like me, sometimes reading a text cold is the least helpful thing you can do. It often helps to have an annotated edition of a text (e.g., study Bibles, commentaries) or introductory works that are accessible to not only scholars but laypeople (i.e., amateurs) as well. Luckily, an example of the latter was published just last year. 

Phillip Long (PhD, Andrews University) is a New Testament scholar teaching at Grace Christian University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Though he is a published author, including a work on Paul’s letter to the Galatians,[9] Long is perhaps best known for his website Reading Acts and his role as curator of the Biblical Studies Carnival. However, in late 2022 he put out an introduction and guide to 1 Enoch entitled The Book of Enoch for Beginners: A Guide to Expand Your Understanding of the Biblical World (Rockridge Press). Similar in format to Brandon Hawk’s Apocrypha for Beginners,[10] Long’s volume aims to bring “a summary and commentary on 1 Enoch…for the nonspecialist” (p. viii). Speaking as a non-specialist, Long certainly gets the job done with this book. 

The Book of Enoch for Beginners follows a fairly simple layout. It is divided into two (unequal) sections. Part one is an introduction to 1 Enoch that covers the standard things one might expect an introduction to cover. He notes, for example, the importance of 1 Enoch for modern readers: its use in New Testament texts (see above), its usefulness to illuminate parts of Jewish history during the Second Temple period, and its influence upon culture, including television programs I’ve watched like Supernatural. Long also briefly covers the origins of 1 Enoch and its various sections. (Like the Bible, 1 Enoch is not so much a book as it is a library.)[11] On p. 4, he recounts the rediscovery of 1 Enoch, first by researchers beginning in the eighteenth century and later in the modern period with Aramaic fragments of the work found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. He also explains the significance of the character of Enoch in not only the Tanakh, the New Testament, and the Qur’an, but also in other Jewish texts like Jubilees, and and 3 Enoch.  

Part two of Long’s guide is a book-by-book, section-by-section commentary on 1 Enoch. In my opinion, this is what makes this particular volume so useful. (The format is so easy to follow that even I could do it.) Because 1 Enoch is a composite work made up of five “books,” part two is divided into five sections, one for each book of 1 Enoch. For each book, there is an introduction, some “facts at a glance,” and then a section-by-section overview. This is further divided into some introductory words, a key verse or verses from the section, and then a commentary on the chapters in question. One of my favorite things are the one-page excursuses (Long calls them “boxes”) that go more in depth on some aspect of 1 Enoch or a related topic. To give you some idea of how Long’s volume works in practice, let’s go through his section on one of my favorite sections of 1 Enoch: the “Book of Astronomical Writings.”

The Book of Astronomical Writings

For those who have read 1 Enoch, it is the first thirty-six chapters that tend to stand out. Known as the “Book of the Watchers,” this section explains the origin of evil in the world via fallen angels known as “watchers.” In fact, it is from this section of 1 Enoch that Jude got both the quote from Enoch as well as the description of the judgment on the lustful angels. In chs. 37-71 of 1 Enoch, the “Book of Parables,” you’ll find reference to the “Messiah” (as in Isaac’s translation) who is a composite figure drawing on material from Daniel 7, Deutero-Isaiah’s servant of Yahweh, the classic Davidic messiah, and Wisdom.[12] But when you get to chs. 72-82 of 1 Enoch, there is a shift away from these topics. Suddenly, the focus is toward the heavens, as the first verse of this section tells us. 

The Book of the Itinerary of the Luminaries of Heaven: the position of each and every one, in respect to their ranks, in respect to their authorities, and in respect to their seasons; each one according to their names and their places of origin and according to their months, which Uriel, the holy angel who was with me, and who (also) is their guide, showed me – just as he showed me all their treatises and the nature of the years of the world unto eternity, till the new creation which abides forever is created.

Whence this change in focus? Why the obsession with heavenly bodies?

Long notes that the Book of Astronomical Writings was originally composed “in Aramaic at the end of the third or the beginning of the second century BCE” (p. 85). He also explains that fragments of this particular section of 1 Enoch were found at Qumran among the Dead Sea Scrolls, written in Aramaic, but these were not published until the 1980s. Consequently, translations of 1 Enoch put out before the 80s lack significant material.[13] Additionally, Long writes that “the Book of Astronomical Writings is the earliest part of the collection” that is 1 Enoch (p. 87). Though Uriel, mentioned in 72:1, appears earlier in 1 Enoch, guiding Enoch through gates at the ends of the Earth (chs. 33-36), the angel’s appearance there is influenced by the Book of Astronomical Writings rather than vice versa. We have discovered, then the reason for the change in focus: there wasn’t any. The Book of Astronomical Writings was an independent work whose focus was upon neither fallen angelic beings nor messianic expectations. Perhaps due to its mention of Enoch (80:1), it served as inspiration for other sections like the Book of the Watchers and was included in the collection that would become 1 Enoch.[14]

But why the obsession with heavenly bodies? Why, for example, does Uriel (through Enoch) go into such detail about the motion of the sun, that object that is “totally filled with light and heat” (72:4), through the sky? While some readers may think that the angel’s goal is to bore readers to death, Long points out that this section has a very specific and important end in mind. “Everything in the book,” he writes, “supports the use of a 364-day calendar (four seasons of ninety-one days each) rather than the 360-day calendar in use at the time” (p. 85). We read at the end of 72:32, after Uriel has gone over the motion of the sun and moon throughout the course of the year, that altogether “the days (of the year) add up to exactly three hundred sixty-four days.” That is God’s design for the cosmos and, therefore, for how humans are to keep time, especially those associated with the Jewish cult. If you mess up the calendar, you might celebrate Passover on the wrong day of the year and risk God’s wrath. This explanation and justification offered by Uriel is, per Long in his “Facts at a Glance,” “one of the earliest arguments for a 364-day calendar” (p. 86). Other facts Long offers us include the dependence of the Book’s description of the heavenly bodies upon the biblical story of creation, the influence of ancient Babylonian writings upon it, the cameo of Methuselah, and that the book claims that “God’s orderly creation will become chaotic” in the end. 

Long divides the Book of Astronomical Writings into two sections: chs. 72-76 and chs. 77-82. In the first of these sections, he alerts us to some things we should be on the lookout as we read the five chapters: the assumption of the Genesis account of creation wherein the sun, moon, and stars are not deities (as in other ancient cultures) but created objects; the consistency and permanence of the laws of nature; and, as noted above, the idea that the Book of Astronomical Writings is the first section of 1 Enoch to have been written. The key verse is the one I quoted above from 72:1. From there, Long launches into a page and a half of commentary on these chapters. For example, he latches on to the end of 72:1 with its language of new creation, drawing a line to texts like Isaiah 65:17 (“For I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth”) as well as to the New Testament’s book of Revelation. Though an important element to many apocalyptic texts, the author of the Book of Astronomical Writings does not spend time dwelling upon it here. Instead, as Long observes, his focus is squarely on the calendar. “A 364-day year is God’s design and anyone using a different calendar is in error,” he writes (p. 88). There is thus no need for mentioning “final judgment or messianic judge.” In these chapters, the author focuses on the motion of the sun, moon, and stars as they make their way through seasonal “gates,” twelve in all.

In the next section, covering chs. 77-82, Long calls upon readers to focus on three things as they read it. The first is the geography of ch. 77 with its seven mountains (“higher than all the mountains of the earth,” 77:5) and seven rivers (“larger than all the rivers,” 77:6). The second is the significance of Uriel’s speech in ch. 80, particularly in light of the lack of eschatological language in the Book of Astronomical Writings generally. The third is the introduction of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, to the story. Following this, Long gives us the key verses of this section (i.e., 82:2-3) and then offers up commentary. He first alerts readers to a textual variant found in 77:2 – “Enoch says the first quarter is the east, the second is the south. In the Ethiopic text, Enoch adds that the ‘Most High will descend’ in the south, but the Aramaic text from the Dead Sea Scrolls…says the second quarter is called the south because ‘there the Great One lives forever” (p. 92).[15] Long opines that this is probably due to a mistranslation. Another interesting feature of this section is that both the sun and moon are giving different names in ch. 78. The sun is called Aryares and Tomas, while the moon is called Asanya, Abla, Banase, and Era. Figuring out the meanings of these names has proven difficult and Long writes that “it is impossible to know their exact meaning as they passed from Aramaic, through Greek, and into Ethiopic.” Whatever the meaning of these names, ch. 80 gives us a glimpse of the disorder that will one day spell the end of the cosmos before the new creation. There will be agricultural issues and the stars will change course. People will begin to worship the celestial bodies as if they were gods, resulting in horrible consequences: “And evil things shall be multiplied upon them; and plagues shall come upon them, so as to destroy all” (80:8). All these things, per ch. 81, appear on tablets that Enoch is commanded to read to his son Methuselah. The section closes in ch. 82 reiterating the importance of adhering to a 364-day calendar. “The year,” Enoch tells Methuselah, “is completed in three hundred and sixty-four days” (82:6). As with everything in 1 Enoch, this information is significant for the present generation. 

Thus ends Long’s commentary on the Book of Astronomical Writings. But I would be remiss if I failed to mention the two excursuses (“boxes”) that appear on pages 90 and 94. The first is a look at how the book of Jubilees was influenced by the Book of Astronomical Writings. Long notes that it too was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and advocates for a 364-day calendar. And while it differs in some details on this point (e.g., Jubilees never explains how long the months of the year are to be), both texts are in agreement that their readers should avoid “arranging the liturgical calendar incorrectly.” 

The second excursus covers the influence of other sources upon the Book of Astronomical Writings. Long writes that some Enoch scholars believe the author was aware of the work of the ancient Greek astronomer Calippus, though recent research suggests otherwise. More likely is the influence of Babylonian astronomy upon the text. For example, Long mentions a cuneiform document known as MUL.APIN that was probably compiled originally around 1000 BCE. “Like the Book of Astronomical Writings,” Long says, “this ancient text traces the path of the stars and how many days the sun follows its path. It is the basis of Babylonian astrology.” If it is the case that MUL.APIN influenced the Book of Astronomical Writings, then it is possible that it was written by Jews living in Babylon. 

A Valuable Contribution to the Field 

I hope it is clear that Long’s work deserves a read. While it is not a text intended to offer brand new insights into 1 Enoch, it is a valuable contribution to the field of Enochian studies. I am of the opinion that public facing scholarship is one of the most important aspects of academia there is. Works like The Book of Enoch for Beginners give readers a taste of not only the ancient texts themselves but also the secondary literature about them. Why wouldn’t scholars want such information to be available to the public? 

Long doesn’t provide any footnotes or endnotes, but that is not surprising for a work like this. Fortunately, following “A Final Note” (p. 131), he provides readers with online resources as well as academic texts and translations for further research. And on pp. 134-135 he gives readers a list of over a dozen resources from significant scholars who have written on subjects related to or about 1 Enoch including some from John Collins, Carol Newsom, and Annette Yoshiko Reed. It is a one-stop shop for subjects related to Second Temple texts, apocalypticism, and more.

Not only do I recommend Long’s brief guide to 1 Enoch to you, reader, but I have recommended it to some of my own peers who are interested in this ancient text. Given that the volume is relatively inexpensive, if you too are interested in understanding 1 Enoch better, then Long’s The Book of Enoch for Beginners deserves to be on your shelf. For my Christian readers, why not pick up a copy for your church’s library? For my more skeptical audience, purchase it to have on hand when you’re involved in discussions on extra-canonical texts and fallen angels. I suppose my message is this: buy a copy of Long’s work, pull out a copy of 1 Enoch to read for yourself, and let The Book of Enoch for Beginners be your guide to the text’s ancient perspective. 

[1] All quotations of biblical texts, unless otherwise noted, are from the New Revised Standard Version.

[2] Cf. John Painter and David. A. deSilva, James and Jude, Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 182.

[3] See Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word, Inc., 1983), 63-76; Lewis R. Donelson, I & II Peter and Jude: A Commentary, The New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 184-185.

[4] Annette Yoshiko Reed, Demons, Angels, and Writing in Ancient Judaism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 80.

[5] Unless otherwise noted, all translations of 1 Enoch come from E. Isaac, “1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) Enoch,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, edited by James H. Charlesworth (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1983), 1: 5-89. 

[6] See Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 95 for a comparison of extant versions of this particular quotation from 1 Enoch

[7] Except, perhaps, among certain segments of fundamentalist Christianity. A couple of years ago I had a brief encounter with a fundamentalist on Twitter who claimed that Jude had not gotten the language of vv. 14-15 from 1 Enoch. Instead, the influence went in the opposite direction: from Jude to 1 Enoch. Nat Ritmeyer alludes to this interaction in his post “Does Jude Quote Enoch?” (1.5.19), biblicalhistoricalcontext.com.

[8] George W.E. Nickelsburg and James C. VanderKam, 1 Enoch: The Hermeneia Translation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2012). 

[9] Phillip J. Long, Galatians: Freedom Through God’s Grace (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2019).

[10] Brandon W. Hawk, Apocrypha for Beginners: A Guide to Understanding and Exploring the Scriptures Beyond the Bible (Emeryville, CA: Rockridge Press, 2021). Hawk covers 1 Enoch but only offers a couple of pages on it.

[11] Cf. Paula Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017), 8.

[12] Nickelsburg and VanderKam, 1 Enoch: The Hermeneia Translation, 4.

[13] This is not to say that those translations lack this section of 1 Enoch. It appears, nonetheless, in Ethiopic versions. It simply means that those translations lack a significant textual witness that could possibly affect translation choices.

[14] As Long notes (p. 3), the title 1 Enoch was not used in antiquity and the composite work didn’t exist until much later. The Book of Parables, for example, was probably written in the early first century BCE, and was therefore the last section of 1 Enoch to have been written.

[15] See 4Q210 1 ii 15. 

1 thought on “‘The Book of Enoch for Beginners’ by Phillip Long – A Brief Review

  1. Excellent Review of the book and it also is free to read if one has Kindle Unlimited.

    Liked by 1 person

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